“…a year later, one of the writers would die, a self-confessed murderer.” @BL_Publishing @medwardsbooks


If in doubt, I always say, then go for Golden Age Crime! After loving the Dickens book I covered on Monday, I wasn’t sure where to go next with my reading – I’m still feeling very drawn to Dickens, but not sure if immersing myself in his work is sensible at a time when life is likely to be getting busier again. So I plumped for one of the recent releases from British Library Publishing in their Crime Classics series, a title which has been getting a lot of love in the Bookblogosphere – “Green for Danger” by Christianna Brand.

Brand, unlike some of the authors featured in the BL series, remains quite a well-known name. Her ‘Nurse Matilda’ children’s books have maintained their popularity, and her crime novels, along with her series detective Inspector Cockrill, were given a further push by the successful black and white film of this title, featuring the wonderful Alistair Sim as the detective. Somehow, however, I’d never actually read this book, despite having once (I’m pretty sure!) having owned an old Penguin version. So it was the pefect kind of escapism, just when I needed it.

Originally published in 1945, “Green for Danger” is set in 1942 and 1943, in the middle of World War 2 – a setting which has featured in some of the most successful BL reissues. Based around Heron’s Park, a recently set up military hospital, the story focuses on the death under anaesthetic of the local postman Joseph Higgins. Brand sets the scene with the opening of the story showing Higgins delivering seven letters of acceptance for roles at the infirmary. Tantalisingly, she reveals that one of the senders will be responsible for Higgins’ death in a year’s time, thus setting up a closed circle of suspects before the event.

We’re soon introduced to the cast of characters, with a little background; there’s the anaesthetist Barnes; the surgeon Gervase Eden, who seems to be irresistible to women; another surgeon, Mr Moon; Sister Bates; and three nurses, Frederica Linley, Esther Sanson and Jane Woods. All have their issues; all could potentially have murdered Higgins; but who has the motive? Fortunately, Inspector Cockrill is on hand to investigate (and, indeed, is known to some of the suspects); but the case is not an obvious one, and when there’s another murder, it seems that more than the air raids is making everyone jittery. The claustrophobia increases as all of the suspects are confined to Heron’s Park as Cockrill waits for the murderer to make a mistake – but will he misjudge things and will there be another victim…?

There’s obviously good reason for Brand’s crime novels being regarded so highly, as she really is a masterful practitioner of GA crime! The WW2 setting always seems to work well for this kind of book, but Brand takes things to another level, building in the suspense of air raids alongside her crimes, and the sense of the fragility of life during the conflic really comes across in the book. The hospital is dealing with those wounded in air raids, and many of the characters have their own secrets to keep. The plot is a twisty one, full of red herrings, and there was no way I was going to come anywhere near working out the solution – I suspected just about everyone at some point or another in the book! The characters are really well-drawn, too, with their emotions and baggage and mad passions on show – there’s a lot of very rapid falling in love in the book, which actually I think it quite accurate. From what I know from family members who lived through WW2, there was a tendency to pair off quite quickly, as who knew whether they would be alive the next day. Emotions play a strong part in the storyline, although it’s not quite the emotions you expect which are behind the final motivation!

“Green…” really was a marvellous read; brilliantly written, extremely compelling (I couldn’t put it down) and with all those lovely red herrings built in. I became so involved with the characters, which kept me up reading much later than I should have, and I was desperate to learn the solution and find out what became of them all – which Brand does round up nicely at the end. Christianna Brand obviously deserves to be ranked with the greats of Golden Age crime; “Green for Danger” deserves all the accolades it’s hard, and I can’t wait to watch the film of it! Pleasingly, the BL have released another of her Cockrill mysteries which is now sitting waiting patiently on my TBR – what fun! Highly recommend this one!

Jacqui’s excellent review of the book is on her blog here.

Flaming June – and onwards into July!!


When I say ‘flaming June’ I could of course be implying two different meanings! Flaming as in it was very hot, which it was; and flaming in the sense of the British English use to express annoyance! June for me was both of those things; too hot, because I’m not good with high temperatures, and busy again so I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted to. What I read I loved, though, and here they are:

No disappointments at all and quite a variety, from short stories (crime and modernist), novels new and old, non-fiction and translated lit. The re-read of “Gormenghast” was pure joy and kept me sane when things were very manic at work!

I have, of course, now completed the #Narniathon, which was great fun, even if I found “The Last Battle” a bit sad. Others will be going on to read an interesting sounding work about the Narnia books, but I am going to pass on that as I don’t have the book and I’m trying to avoid acquiring more; though I will follow their thoughts with interest!

As for what I *do* plan to read, well, I’m going to keep that as loose as possible. Annabel has an Italian Fortnight coming up at the end of the month, and so I shall try to join in with that. There is, I think, a Paris in July event knocking about somewhere online, but it will depend on my mood as to whether I take part. Also Stu usually hosts a Spanish/Portuguese Lit event so if that’s going ahead I may try to take part. What I *do* want to do is to make a dent in the mountainous TBR as on the imminent pile are some very interesting titles:

First up, an inviting pair of review books – Orwell and Golden Age Crime are two of my favourite things to read, so I hope to get to these soon.

Spark is also a huge favourite, and I’m intrigued by Lange – I love interesting women authors, so either of these would be a great choice for July.

Irina Mashinski’s book sounds quite marvellous, and I can’t wait to get to it – it’s definitely one title I’ll be prioritising in July!

I’m currently reading the Letters of Basil Bunting alongside whichever other book I have to hand and it’s a fascinating volume; so far much of the correspondence has been addressed to Ezra Pound, and this really is something of a treasure trove.

My current read, along with the Bunting is this:

Yes, I’m finally making an attempt to read Brookner properly! Only a little way in but so far I’m impressed – watch this space for progress reports!!!

Apart from that, I’ll just keep on picking up the books which take my fancy as that’s what works for me. I hadn’t *planned* to re-read “Gormenghast” in June, for example, but when the reading mojo calls, you just have to follow it! Do you have any plans for your July reading??

“I always like a dog, so long as he isn’t spelt backwards.” #guiltycreatures @BL_Publishing @medwardsbooks


I find myself still playing catch-up with reviews, and the book I want to focus on today is one I read earlier in the month during a really busy time at work. Needless to say, as it’s a lovely collection of Golden Age Crime short stories, it was the perfect read for a time of stress!! British Library Publishing have released a number of crime anthologies, all with a particular theme, and the latest is a fascinating collection called “Guilty Creatures“; subtitled “A Menagerie of Mysteries” it brings together a wonderful range of stories from over the decades, all with animals or birds involved in the action…

The most famous animal participant in classic crime is probably the titular Baskerville Hound in Conan Doyle’s famous story; and of course Holmes also took part in the notorious exchange about the incident of the dog in the night. So it’s no surprise that a Holmes story opens the collection, in the form of “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane“; this is a late outing in the detective’s career, and interestingly is narrated by the great man himself and not his normal chronicler, Dr. Watson. Needless to say, it’s excellent and the conclusion unexpected.

The choice of authors in “Guilty…” is interesting; there are better-known names like Chesterton, Edgar Wallace and Christianna Brand; however there are names which were new to me, such as Headon Hill, Vincent Cornier and Garnett Radcliffe. This made the collection a particularly enjoyable one to read, as I do love to encounter new authors!

The stories range far and wide with all kind of animal taking part, from F. Tennyson Jesse’s “The Green Parrakeet” in which the title bird is the key to uncovering a particularly devious crime. Then there’s Wallace’s “The Man Who Hated Earthworms“, which is a very entertaining tale of a mad scientist; Radcliffe’s “Pit of Screams“, a short, sharp story of a very clever crime; and Josephine Bell’s “Death in a Cage“, which I wouldn’t have worked out in a million years! Her writing is also particularly good, and she captures a sense of place here in much the same way as she did in “The Port of London Murders.” (This is a long quote, but I do find her prose very evocative.)

The fog that November night was thickest in Central and North London. Cars in the Mall, edging blindly about the wide roadway near Buckingham Palace, came to a standstill where the kerbs gave them no help. Queues of traffic formed behind drivers who, mistaking a gap in the pavement for Birdcage Walk, had jammed themselves against the railings. A slow procession moved around Hyde Park. In Knightsbridge the buses went to head to tail, scarcely moving. Further north the fog lay thickly upon Regent’s Park. The canal was invisible even from the bridges over it. No cars coming to the circles of this Park, because the street lamps there are set too far apart to be much use in fog. The unaccustomed absence of traffic joined with the blanket of fog to still all noise. Under the trees the gentle fall of drops from the branches above was startlingly loud.

Chesterton’s “The Oracle of the Dog” was a really interesting and quite dark read; I’ve always found the Father Brown stories a wee bit odd, and in this one the clerical detective managed to solve the puzzle without moving from his armchair; and he also had very strong views about the human tendency to attribute all sorts of powers and emotions to dogs! Brand’s “The Hornet’s Nest” was another treat; featuring her regular detective, Inspector Cockrill, it again flummoxed me till the end, and of the suspects available after the murder of the unpleasant Harold Caxton, I never would have picked the correct one!

Those who are quick in talking are not always quick in listening. Sometimes even their brilliancy produces a sort of stupidity. Father Brown’s friend and companion was a young man with a stream of ideas and stories, an enthusiastic young man named Fiennes, with eager blue eyes and blonde hair that seem to be brushed back, not merely with a hair-brush but with the wind of the world as he rushed through it. But he stopped in the torrent of his talk in a momentary bewilderment before he saw the priest’s very simple meeting.

Inevitably I come to the author I always hope to see in a BLCC anthology, and I wasn’t disappointed here either. H.C. Bailey’s marvellous Reggie Fortune is present in the story “The Yellow Slugs“, which is actually one I’ve read before; it features in a collection I have, assembled by Dorothy L. Sayers, and I wrote about it here. It’s a story in which a pair of youngsters appear to be guilty of heinous crimes, and it takes all Reggie’s skills to get to the truth of the matter which, as I said at the time, is clever, chilling and quite fiendish. Reading the story for a second time, I was impressed all over again; Reggie is a powerful creation, the story is really quite dark, and I know Bailey’s writing is considered an acquired taste, but I rate it very highly. He’s a compelling storyteller, and the Reggie stories I’ve read are some of my favourites.

H.C. Bailey – George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

“Guilty Creatures” really hit the spot when I was in need of comfort reading, and crime short stories are often the best for this, as they’re bite sized pieces of soothing reading and wonderfully distracting when real life is too much. This particular collection was a really pleasing one, with an interesting array of authors, and some wonderfully twisty plots. It’s obvious that I’m a huge fan of British Library Crime Classics and I found this one to be a really excellent addition to their range – loved it! 😀

(Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks!)

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